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Piecework  Newsletter


Read the newsletters from Sandra Dallas for news about upcoming books, stories, Sandra's Picks and reviews:

Adam ’n’ Eve, Murphy, and Clean Up the Kitchen

Volume XXIV, Issue One | June 2024

I love slang. Well, not personally. I try not to use it in conversation. But in writing, slang is a wonderful thing. It gives a sense of time and place like nothing else. Write “whatcha know, Joe,” and you know we’re talking about World War II. “Bees knees?” 1920s, of course. “Ring a ding ding.’ 1930s. And how about that awful “See you later, alligator?” Remember the 1960s?

I like slang so much that I have four shelves of slang books in my office. That includes the three-volume Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which I used this week to find out when “hubba hubba” was first used. The slang dictionary not only lists every slang word ever uttered but tells the date of its first usage so that you don’t have a Civil War character uttering, “Cowabunga!” I have books on western words and one just on war slang. And I have local slang books such as Saintspeak: The Mormon Dictionary, which I picked up in the Salt Lake City airport, and Southern Words and Sayings, purchased in New Orleans. There’s Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech. I have no idea where I got that one. I think at one time or another I’ve used every one of my slang books, because I love to have my characters use period talk. In fact, I love it so much that I have to go back over a manuscript with the delete key because I use too much of it.

What brought this on was a book Bob was reading the other day. He said he’d never seen it before, and I don’t remember buying it. No matter. Schott’s Original Miscellany is a collection of trivia so diverse that it could only have appealed to an author’s sense of the bizarre. It begins with the story of a hat tax in England in the late 18th century. There’s a list of prime numbers and another list of the names of dogs belonging to famous people. (John Lennon’s dog was Elvis, Mark Twain’s Beelzebub.) The book includes the words to “Solomon Grundy” and sentences that contain every letter of the alphabet. And on and on.

Here's the point: I came across a list of American diner slang that made me smile. Diner usage is my all-time favorite slang. If you’re read my books, you know I love to set scenes in old-time coffee shops and ice cream parlors. I think I have two such scenes just in New Mercies.

I don’t remember how much slang I used in those settings, probably not a lot, because I didn’t want to overdo it. I might use some of the following in the future. Here’s what a diner waitress would yell at the cook:

Adam ’n’ Eve: two poached eggs

Murphy: potatoes

Wreck ’em: scrambled eggs

Two cows, make ’em cry: two hamburgers with onions

Burn the British: toasted muffin

Bucket of cold mud: chocolate ice cream

Clean up the kitchen: hash

Put out the lights and cry: liver and onions

In the alley: Serve as a side dish

And my favorite, Life preserver: donut.

I don’t know if waitresses use these phrases today. Probably not. No sweat! I’ll sit here with my moo juice and a slice of Adam ‘n’ Eve with a lid on and lament the passing of a slice of engaging Americana.


Another Egg

I don’t know of any slang for an egg on my head, but that was what I ended up with in New Orleans a few weeks ago. We were visiting Dana, who has a nice queen-size bed in her guest room. Bob and I are used to sleeping in a king-size bed, and I guess I forgot where I was. I turned over—and fell out of bed, cracking my head on the nightstand on my way down. I ended up with a hematoma the size of a hen’s egg, or at least, that’s what it felt like. When my vision got blurry, we went to the hospital. After an MRI and an examination, the doctor said I was fine. So we went out and celebrated at the 1920s Top Hat restaurant with fried oyster po’ boys and French fries.



I’ve scheduled the following two speeches for June. I hope you can make one of them.

Thursday, June 6, 4 p.m.

Eaton Public Library

1322 Maple Ave., Eaton, Colorado

Thursday, June 20, 2 p.m.

Glenn A. Jones M.D.

Memorial Library Milliken Athletic Complex

320 Centennial Drive, Milliken, Colorado


A nice idea from a reader

I bought Prayers for Sale…and the sign intrigued me so I recently decided to put a sign outside my house that says Cookies and Prayer. So far three neighbors and their families have come by. I sent postcards to the street since they might not drive by. Thanks for the inspiration.

I wish I lived on her block.


Sandra’s Picks

Double the Lies

By Patricia Raybon Tyndale

Denver author Patricia Raybon’s amateur sleuth Annalee Spain was an instant hit in Raybon’s first mystery. Annalee is a 1920s black detective who lives in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood and must deal not only with crime but with racial prejudice. After all, this is the heyday of the KKK.

In “Double the Lies,” Annalee befriends a crying white woman she encounters in the library, lending her a handkerchief, then accompanying her home. The two discover the body of the woman’s husband, a barnstormer. Police find Annales’s handkerchief and want to pin the murder on her. But an officer says he’ll hold off with the arrest if she can find the real killer. She’s given only days.

Solving the crime takes her to a Denver airshow. When police spot her, she hides in an airplane, only to become the reluctant passenger when the pilot takes off for Estes Park. The pilot is the brother of the dead man, and he is smitten with Annalee. Annalee is drawn to him, even though she is in love with Jack, a preacher. Jack, however, has disappeared.

“Double the Lies” is an intriguing mystery, with lots of twists and turns. What makes it so compelling is not just the story but Raybon’s depiction of life of a black woman in 1920s Denver. Every aspect of Annalee’s life is dictated by her color. She wants to investigate some paintings but can’t go to the Denver Art Museum because it doesn’t admit blacks. Her relationship with the white pilot beings on the wrath of the Klan. She could be found guilty of murder with no more evidence than a handkerchief. Raybon’s book is not just a mystery but a study of what life was like for a black woman in 1920s Denver.

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